It goes without saying that the only way one should enter into any country, including the UK, is by legal and correctly organised means, which involves having all the necessary paperwork and documentation on your person at the time of your arrival.
However, we are aware that life is not always so simple, and there will be times where people arrive in the UK and are unable to produce the correct documentation right away. This can mean they get into serious trouble if they cannot give a valid excuse for why they are without such documentation.
Under section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971, Entering the UK without valid leave carries a maximum imprisonment of 6 months. A person can also be sentenced under the Identity Document Act 2010 if he/she possesses a false document without proper intention.
What do the Home Office see as a reasonable excuse?
If the applicant cannot provide a genuine document on arrival, there are certain reasons that they may be able to cite to avoid prosecution. Bear in mind that each case will be treated individually, and that these excuses will be investigated by immigration officials.
Some of these ‘reasonable excuses’ may be:
- The political situation in their country has meant they are unable to get travel documents. This is usually more apparent in countries currently engaged in wars or under a political dictatorship.
- Their genuine travel document was lost, destroyed or stolen whilst they were travelling to the UK, and it was not their fault. For example, they travelled as part of a group and somebody else was in charge of looking after their passport.
- They did as they were told by someone else, for example, they destroyed their document, and the only reason they did this was because they were acting under duress (where unlawful pressure was put on them to make them do something they would not normally do).
- They never had a genuine document and, can show they did not hold a document at any stage of their journey. For example they were hidden in the back of a lorry for the entire journey.
Where an applicant cannot produce a document within 3 days of an in country (after entering the UK) interview, the Home Office may grant them more time if there was a medical or family emergency that they can provide evidence of, or some kind of transport issue such as an accident, which can also be proven to be true.
Are the rules different for vulnerable people?
As you may expect, the rules are different for minors and people who have learning and mental disabilities.
Where minors are involved, the immigration officials are likely to be much more lenient when deciding what steps to take. The Home Office train their immigration staff to understand that:
- Some countries do not issue immigration documents to minors.
- Minors may be afraid to challenge an adult, and so do as they are told even where illegal activity is involved.
- Minors may have different levels of understanding to adults and may not realise they need an immigration document to travel.
Where a person with mental disabilities is concerned, the immigration staff are trained to understand that:
- The may rely on others to tell them what to do.
- They may not understand what is required of them to legally travel.
What do we think of all this?
It is clear that people must be fully prepared to meet immigration officials when entering the UK, and the best way to enter is to have all documentation ready for inspection.
However, we live in the real world, and in this world there will always be people trying their best to either start a new life, escape from danger in their own country, or simply be unable to obtain proper documents through no fault of their own.
In particular, being foreigners just arriving at a new country, they have no or limited knowledge of the legal system in the UK. Such ignorance will make them more vulnerable. It is hard to say they arrive with a criminal mind. Therefore, it is important to have a flexible and fair system in place so that they can be dealt with in a more humane manner. Unless there is solid evidence, the decision should be made not to prosecute them.
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